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A Sabbath Poem | God is Not

God is Not
God is not your grandfather
who looks a little like Santa Claus,
the white beard who never-the-less
knows when you have been naughty or nice.
God is not an over-stuffed teddy bear
good for hugs when you weep
for all that your hands have broken.
Nor is he Thor, sitting on peak of your roof
thunderbolt ready, waiting
for you to mow your lawn on Sabbath.
Nor is he a she—an earth mother
skipping along the road dispensing
cabbages and oranges from her
cornucopia over-flowing
with all things great and small.
At least for some,
God is none of the above,
or any other anthropomorphized
being carved into an image of our fancy.
For a few, the select, for those
who are truly blessed.
God is a cold wind
blowing through emptiness,
that hole in the middle of your life, that
lone ache clawed into the center of your chest
that has always been there, there
when you go to sleep, there
when you wake in the morning.
God keeping it clean as a whistle.
~John McDowell
A friend recently loaned me the theologian, Martin E. Marty’s A Cry of Absence: Reflections for the Winter of the Heart. The book describes and validates the Christian path that winds through the darker phases of life’s journey when the seemingly constant call is that the appropriate response for the Christian is to be sunny, cheerful and aglow in the bounteous goodness and joy of the Lord. Marty writes. “The message in this world of spiritual best-sellers and large audiences is consistent: “Follow me, follow my prescription, think the right thoughts, and all the chill will disappear. Joy comes to those who prosper in faith” (7). Life does not always turn out well. Relationships do not always mend, the cancer is not always healed, one’s spiritual weather forecast is not always sunny and warm. Marty notes that, “The sunny friend and the summery gathering are of little help to many seekers. If such are still to have sufficient hope to inspire an address to the Absence, a quieting of the furious wintery wind, where do they turn?” (6). This is the central question that Marty’s book addresses.
While reading his book, I realized that some months prior I had confronted—at least in part—what Marty is getting at in a poem of my own. “God is Not” begins humorously with the childish confusion of God and Santa Claus and builds from that to debunk other “popular” images of the divine. Underneath the humor (some may even see sarcasm) there is the frustration that the various pictures of God presented to the speaker do not fit with the experience of absence and alienation. The poem gives voice to those where it is winter in the deep heart’s core.
Citation: Marty, Martin E., A Cry of Absence: Reflections for the Winter of the Heart, Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1997.
John McDowell, Ph.D., is Professor of English at Pacific Union College.

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